Rural India is floundering, with innumerable cases of fever and cold, classic COVID-19 symptoms. Villagers find themselves without testing facilities, medical help and vaccines. Hear what they have to say...
Switch on news channels and you see visuals of overcrowded city hospitals, patients listless on stretchers, waiting to be admitted, family members running helter skelter trying to organise oxygen cylinders, or standing in serpentine queues to buy crucial drugs.
Scroll Twitter, and you may end up feeling broken, reading tweets and retweets of helpless urban residents seeking a verified source for a medical-grade oxygen cylinder, a vial of Remdesivir, or simply a bed in some hospital.
The second wave of the COVID19 pandemic has hit the country badly, with India reporting 382,315 new cases today and 3,780 deaths due to the virus. Just four days ago, the daily infections breached the 400,000 mark!
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In this unprecedented health crisis, how is rural India, where every sixth Indian lives, coping? Has the virus reached our villages? Are villagers suffering? How many have got vaccinated? How many are getting tested? How prepared is our rural health infrastructure to handle the fallout of this second wave?
There is an information blackout.
Scattered reports point out that people in villages are unwell — they have fever, cold, cough and feel breathless. These are also symptoms of COVID-19. Villagers claim they haven’t seen such widespread sickness before, not even during the first wave of the pandemic last year. But we do not know how much COVID-19 has spread in villages as people in rural India are not getting tested. Many Corona deaths are possibly going unreported and unrecorded.
For almost a decade now, Gaon Connection, India’s biggest rural media platform, has been working consistently to record and present the voice of rural India. To make India sit up and listen to its hinterland.
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During the nationwide lockdown last year, Gaon Connection conducted a one-of-its-kind nationwide survey on the impact of COVID-19 in rural India. With a sample size of 25,371 rural respondents, the survey was conducted in 179 districts of 20 states and three union territories across the country. The survey report — The Rural Report 1 — was recently quoted in the last session of Rajya Sabha too.
In this raging second wave, Gaon Connection’s reporters and community journalists are out in the field recording how the second wave of COVID19 is playing out in India’s villages.
Meanwhile, a tweet on May 2 by Neelesh Misra, founder of Gaon Connection, opened a Pandora’s box of how worrisome the present situation in villages is. The many replies to the tweet possibly provide a snapshot of how rural India is ailing in the second wave.
In a flurry of DMs (direct messages), residents of rural India have narrated how the second wave is causing large-scale illness and suffering in the hinterland. People are sick. Many are dying. There is no testing. Vaccination is yet to pick up. A sense of fear has gripped rural India.
In response to Misra’s tweet, Thakra Ram of Sara Dhanji village in Sindhari tehsil of Barmer in Rajasthan, said there was no COVID testing in his village and villagers had to travel at least 30 kilometres to get tested. There is a fear among villagers that if they test positive for the virus, they would be taken away to some big hospital where they may die. He also informed that weddings were going on in full swing in villages, and there was no physical distancing or use of face masks.
Similarly, Tarun Mishra from Patara Khurd village in Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh said no one had died of COVID in his village but no testing for the coronavirus was being done. Only 50 per cent of the village population above 45 years of age had been vaccinated. He claimed that in the neighbouring village of Kamlapur, many people had died of COVID. However, not all have been tested.
Saurabh Kumar of Barauli village in Aurangabad, Bihar, said the coronavirus had not reached his village but there was also no COVID testing facility in the village.
Shania from Lakhimpur-Kheri in Uttar Pradesh said the situation was extremely worrisome. “Hospitals are not taking patients and no provision of testing. Many families in villages dying but no awareness about the cause…” (sic).
Hrishabh Dwivdei from Baghvait village in Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh, said that in his village and the surrounding villages, there were COVID-19 symptoms all around, and people are dying, but the administration was neither testing people nor was there a provision of testing kits for those in home quarantine.
In every other village the story is the same. The only difference is the name of the village, the district and the state. Rural India is floundering and finds itself left without any support.
The writing is on the wall. And, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.